St Paul tells us that Jesus Christ is ‘the image of the unseen God.’ (Col. 1:15) In other words, in Jesus we see what God is really like. The reason images were forbidden in the Old Testament was that God’s intended image was still to come. While graven images of God were forbidden the Old Testament, there were plenty of word pictures of God. The images are rich and abundant. God is portrayed as a Good Shepherd, a Faithful Husband or a Glorious King. God bears the image of a Loving Father, a Suffering Servant, the Powerful Creator or a Heavenly Master. When Jesus comes, the gospels show how he fulfils and completes each one of these Old Testament images of God.
Once Jesus, the true image of God, came to earth images were not only allowed, but necessary. So each image of Jesus Christ reminds us that he is the image of the unseen God. Whether it is in a Crucifix, the Stations of the Cross, an icon of Christ, a mosaic, a painting or a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, each image of the Lord is a reminder that he is the image of the Unseen God. He is God made visible.
Furthermore, if we were originally made in the image of God. Jesus the God-Man has come in order to restore that image to its perfection. St Paul says, ‘Just as we have born the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.’ (I Cor. 15.49) We are being renewed in knowledge in the image of our creator (Col. 3:10) In other words, ‘we shall be like him.’ (I John 3:2) The purpose of Jesus’ work on earth is not only to redeem us, but to transform us into his likeness. Catholics have images in church not just to be reminded of role models, but to be reminded that our destiny is to be transformed into the likeness of Christ. Each image of a saint in a Catholic Church is a reminder that that real, historical person was transformed by God’s grace to show forth the image of Christ in the world.
Whenever you see a Catholic image therefore, you are really looking at an image of Jesus Christ, for each saint is a window through whom Christ can be seen. Each saint has been transformed into the image of Christ while he is also being made into all that God created him to be. So when you see a statue of the Virgin Mary or Saint Joseph or Saint Anthony in a way you are looking at another version of Jesus because you are looking at a person who has been transformed into a real and living icon of Christ.